Canned Navy Vs Cannellini Beans: How Do They Differ?

With over 400 different types of beans here on Earth, it's hard to know which canned bean varieties are (and aren't) worth buying. While not all beans are created equal in terms of taste and texture, in general, most beans are an excellent source of plant protein, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals — and white beans are no exception.

There are four major players in the white bean family: great northern beans, lima beans, navy beans and cannellini beans. Generally speaking, all white beans are similar enough in taste and texture that, in a pinch, they can be used interchangeably. For the refined palette, however, they do have some key distinctions. While the real difference between navy beans and great northern beans boils down to little more than texture, the differences between navy and cannellini beans are a bit more noticeable. Primarily, cannellini beans are bigger, more structured, and bolder in taste than navy beans.

Canned navy beans are soft and mild

Navy beans — otherwise known as Boston beans — are the smallest of the white bean family. Although they're native to Peru, they're among the most popular bean varieties in America. Their name stems from the beans' status as a permanent menu item on U.S. Navy ships.

With a small, round shape, soft center, and mild taste, navy beans have become the bean of choice for plenty of barbecue baked beans recipes. Terrifically suited for soups, stews, and bean dips, these starchy legumes act as a smooth and protein-packed thickening agent, releasing starches as they cook. Because they can quickly begin to lose their shape, they don't require a long cooking time; however, they can also be mashed or pureed to give dishes an extra creamy kick. For example, try including them in your favorite turkey chili recipe for a thicker final product. Plus, these canned beans are already fully cooked and ready to eat.

Canned cannellini beans are large and earthy

If navy beans are the smallest bean in the white family, then cannellini beans are the largest. While they were popularized in southern Italy — becoming a staple in the Mediterranean diet and an integral part of many Italian recipes (they're divine in pasta e fagioli) — they originally come from Argentina. When cooked or canned, the large, kidney-shaped beans become soft, creamy, and fluffy in the center. But while navy beans tend to deconstruct during the cooking process, cannellini beans are firmer and have a thicker skin. This allows them to easily maintain their shape, making them an excellent candidate for casseroles, salads, and recipes that involve slow cooking.

Cannellini beans' flavor profile is also notably different from that of navy beans. Bolder in taste than the navy or great northern bean, they're often described as nutty, earthy, and undeniably bean-like. For this reason, they're often paired with meat or fish. Canned tuna fish mixed with canned white beans is a popular salad served throughout Italy.